Sunday, November 13, 2011

Necessity the Mother of Invention

With winter approaching fast, I needed a inexpensive solution to two major outdoor issues:
  • How to keep our outdoor cat warm throughout the winter
  • How to store all the squash from our volunteer plants 
Eva doesn't do well in the house with the other cats - she was a stray for too long.  Her advanced age, (over 13 the vet estimates) demands a warm place to get out of the rain.  So when the rains started, we put a cushion for her on the bottom shelf of my hardware storage, covered it with a tarp and threw up a passageway for her to get into it.
Not a very elegant solution

 And how was I going to keep all that lovely butternut and acorn squash from freezing?  I really didn't want to spend the time cooking it, mashing it up and freezing it - I still had pumpkin in the freezer from last year.  And sometimes you just want a stuffed acorn squash, or roasted butternut.  But I didn't have the time or money to build a root cellar. 

Cat house, root cellar - how to combine the two?

So, I came up with the cat cellar!

First, I gathered up four cedar 2 x 4's that I had left over from building raised beds, and marked where the shelves would go.

Next I put on the shelf supports, offsetting them so that I didn't have two by fours sticking out of the frame the uprights made.  Hope that makes sense.

Eva in front of her future winter home.  I had all this lovely foam insulation laying around from an earlier upgrade inside the house - figured this would be a good way to insulate my cat cellar.

The first shelves in.  The plan was to put the food on the ground floor, and then provide a entrance for Eva that would be out of the weather.

First section done - Eva's hangout.  I figured I had better get some light into the bed area, since there will be days too cold and wet for her to hang outside, but she is still going to want to see out.  I had a piece of plexiglass (I never throw something away if I think i can use it again), that was almost the same size as the door - glued it to the plywood, then put weatherstripping around it and put on a 1 x 2 frame, which is what I used to attach the hinges too.  I still need to put in some caulking between the wood and the window on the outside.  There is a little barrel lock for us to be able to open up the door and check on her - and this is where the kids decided to put her food also - to keep other animals away from it.

View from the front - all that extra cedar left over from making raised beds got used up.  I did have to make some purchases for this - a sheet of plywood, and some extra pieces from Home Depots culled lumber area which were just a few dollars, the hinges and barrel bolts, but most of what was used I had stored around the yard.

A week later, I added the upper door.  the "root cellar" area is pretty well insulated with foam and weather stripping, and since there is a bit of heat from Eva, I don't think it will freeze, but there are plenty of air leaks I couldn't plug, so I think everything will store ok.  will just have to wait and see.  The top was full of butternut, but my kids have already gone through quite a bit.

Last addition - I found a heated pad at our local pet supply store made specifically for outdoor pets - it was a bit spendy, about $45, but I think worth it.  It only uses 20 watts, it goes into sleep mode, and only really comes on when there is a weight on it, which means it isn't on when Eva is not on there.  The cord is covered with a wire so she can't chew on the cord, and I plugged it into a surge suppressor just for safety.  There is no thermostat, it senses the body temp of the animal and adjusts automatically. 

Problem solved!

Meanwhile, while working on this, I am also working on cleaning up the yard and getting stalks and stuff cut up for compost.  Found a bonus by an old compost pile - borage starts from the borage I composted in late summer:
If you can harvest borage leaves when they are young and tender like this, you have a real treat!  Any older, and they get annoying bristles on the back.  Although they can still be used to make a Mediterranean green sauce.

Borage leaves taste like cucumber - have a light delicate taste - and are a great addition to sandwiches and salads.  My granddaughter ended up eating over half of my sandwich, she really liked the borage leaves.
Sometimes the garden gives us surprises that we have no control over - the volunteers that spring up from past plantings and the spilling of seed.  Don't be so quick to pull out what you think are weeds - they may end up feeding you.  Dandelion is a good example of this.  I only had three borage plants I grew this year, but so prolific are they that I will have borage starts all over my yard for years to come.  I am fine with that.  They are so high in nutritional content, that whether we eat them, the chickens do ( in the future when I get some), or they get composted, it is a win-win for my garden.  

Essential information about Borage:

Borage contains the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), typically in concentrations of 17-20%. Linolenic acid is omega-6 fatty acid that play vital role in restoration of joint health, immunity, healthy skin and mucus membranes.

Fresh Borage has high levels of vitamin C (ascorbic acid); provides 35 mcg or 60% of RDA per 100 g. Vitamin C is one of the powerful natural anti-oxidants that help remove harmful free radicals from the body. Along with other anti-oxidants, it has immune booster, wound healing and anti-viral effects.

Borage contains very high levels of vitamin A (140% of RDA) and carotene's. Both these compounds are powerful flavonoid anti-oxidants. Together, they act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.

Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin A and carotene's are known to help body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.

Borage is a good source for minerals like iron (41% of RDA), calcium, potassium, manganese, copper, zinc, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is an important co-factor for cytochrome oxidase enzyme in the cellular metabolism. In addition, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, it determines the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.

The herb is one of the good sources of B-complex vitamins, particularly rich in niacin (vitamin B-3). Niacin helps lower LDL cholesterol levels in the body. In addition, it has riboflavin, thiamin, pyridoxine, and folates in adequate levels. These vitamins function as co-factors in the enzymatic metabolism inside the body.

So you see that you can easily grow all the vitamins, minerals and componets you need to stay healthy. 

Next project (in between rain storms and cold weather):  
Getting the garden tools ready for next season.

Rebar I used in the raised bed covers is rusting - actually, rebar is rusting when you buy it at the lumber yard.  My rake and hoe are also showing signs of rust.

When I bought my house (October 2009), I hit some yard sales while waiting for it to close, to see if I could find some used tools and not have to buy many new.  I found a few, and one of the sellers threw this rake in for free.  I used it for two years, but now it needs some TLC.  Why not just throw it away and buy a new one?  Because this one is perfectly good if just taken care of.  All of your tools have the ability to last many years if taken care of.  So, as soon as the temp outside gets over fifty degrees, I will be using a product that neutralizes rust and creates a black paintable surface, and then coating them in a rust inhibitor paint.  A quick sanding and waxing of any wood handles, and we are ready for next spring.

Now, off to uncover my tomatoes and see if there are any ready to bring in.